Mark Wagner’s ‘Recycled’ Dollar Bill Collages Poke Fun at Money
At a time when most Americans are counting their pennies and saving their dollars, artist Mark Wagner is cutting up cash and using it as art supplies. Wagner’s latest series of works focus on the iconic one dollar bill – he uses its bevy of symbols and illustrations to create sprawling currency collages. Wagner transforms pieces of dollars into portraits, animals and plants that comment on money and liberty.
Fascinated by the durable linen stock and deep ink printing of paper currency, Wagner transforms powerful symbol into mosaics, decorative patterns, and tableaux. By using the old-fashioned practice of collage (the craft of reusing printed elements), Wagner creates pieces that appear to be vintage artworks at first glance.
The dollar bill is rife with symbolism – the Masonic eye, pyramids, fire, and flowers. Wagner plays up these symbols, by casting them against the star of the dollar bill – founding father George Washington. Many pieces poke fun at money – a triptych shows a “money tree,” first rich with dollar leaves, then slowly barren and fruitless. Hundreds of tiny leaf details are arranged together to spell out “Petty Cash” in decorative cursive, while seals from the Department of the Treasury bloom like flowers on a vine. He even transforms the rounded details and Washington heads into a graceful peacock set against a brick pattern made up of the rectangular dollar remnants.
But his most playful pieces are the ones in which he casts president George Washington in an array of madcap situations. George sails on a sea of bills with two clones and tames a lion with his head in its mouth. The most impressive piece is a massive and meticulously detailed collage of the Statue of Liberty with ghosts and Georges running amok, causing chaos and havoc.
Wagner’s work strikes a chord in our troubled economy, which has forced us to consider our own relationship with money and the concepts of freedom and liberty.
Wagner’s website describes the project as such:
The one dollar bill is the most ubiquitous piece of paper in America. Collage asks the question: what might be done to make it something else? It is a ripe material: intaglio printed on sturdy linen stock, covered in decorative filigree, and steeped in symbolism and concept. Blade and glue transform it-reproducing the effects of tapestries, paints, engravings, mosaics, and computers—striving for something bizarre, beautiful, or unbelievable… l’étranger dans le familier.
Wagner’s upcoming art exhibition, Money, Power, Sex & Mark Wagner, will premiere at the Pavel Zoubok Gallery in New York City next month. The showcase is scheduled to run from Sept. 6 to Oct. 5.
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